About Organizing Small Churches

Correspondence 

From a South Holland, Illinois reader I received the following letter: 

Dear Editor: 

I read your article of the December issue on the establishment of another Protestant Reformed Church in the Grand Rapids area. Also in the church news of the December 15 issue the transfer of membership papers to the new congregation. I don’t understand how this is possible. Are our churches in the Grand Rapids area so overcrowded, for example, First Church, Southeast, Southwest, and Faith? Or are these people not happy where they are? If the latter is the case, how is it possible that the involved consistories do not check into this? It seems to me that we are setting up all kinds of little churches all over the USA to be supported by the denomination (forever it seems): Edgerton, Edmonton, Isabel, Pella, Trinity, Kalamazoo, and Covenant are examples. Isn’t this kind of putting a burden on the rest of us? 

The last time I was in Grand Rapids, we went to First Church and it seemed to me there was plenty of room for twenty some families. It is impossible for me to understand the wisdom of Classis East to approve such a movement. I hope and pray that maybe through the printed matter you can shed some light on this.

Thank-you, 

(w.s.) Joe Postma 

Reply 

I will try to shed some light. My correspondent must bear in mind, however, that I cannot and do not speak for Classis East. In fact, I was not even present at the sessions of Classis East at which Byron Center’s petition for organization was considered; neither was I present when the request of our youngest congregation, Grandville, was considered. At the same time, let it be said, I fully agree with the classical decisions, and I am heartily in favor of the organization of both of these new congregations. Permit me to call your attention to the following considerations: 

1) The churches of Classis East are mostly churches in the greater Grand Rapids area, churches, therefore, which were vitally concerned in the organization of new churches in the very area where they are. Yet in the judgment of Classis East (by overwhelming, if not unanimous vote) the organization of both new congregations was approved. 

2) One cannot simply lump the entire metropolitan area of Grand Rapids into one. There are various areas and communities in the Grand Rapids area which have to be taken into consideration in this connection, so that we have always in the past established congregations in the various areas in which our people live. It may very well be that a certain congregation has extra room in their auditorium, but that does not mean that we tell people, “You must all travel to First Church and fill that up before we will consider starting a new congregation.” On that basis, we could have said to some of the churches in this area after the split that they should go and fill up the (then) 1250 seats of First Church before we would reorganize them. Then, of course, there would have been no Southeast or Southwest Church today. 

3) Size, however, is not the only—and in my opinion, not the chief—consideration. Another consideration is that of establishing a Protestant Reformed witness in a given community, and especially in a community in which there is not already such a witness. This is the case with both Grandville and Byron Center. It was also the case with Faith Church, Jenison, several years ago. I am very much in favor of establishing such a Protestant Reformed witness wherever it is possible to do so, that is, wherever it is possible to institute a viable congregation, even though small at first, and wherever there appears to be potential for growth. 

4) Size was, however, a consideration in the case of both Grandville and Byron Center. In the former instance, our Hope Church, from which most of the Grandville membership came, was indeed much overcrowded, so that they had extra chairs in every available spot. In the latter instance, Hudsonville was seeing its auditorium filling up; and it took into consideration the fact, too, that there has for years been a Byron Center contingent in the congregation which had to travel from Byron to Hudsonville not only for Sunday services but also for catechism classes and for society meetings during the week. Hence, even from this point of view I can see the wisdom—and, I trust, Classis East could—of branching out. 

5) My correspondent cites some examples of small churches. About these I would point out: a) That one must be careful with these examples. Three of them (Edgerton, Pella, and Kalamazoo) are churches which were reorganized after the split of 1953, churches which were at one time larger and self-supporting but which became numerically smaller through the split. Certainly, my correspondent would agree that we could not very well have said to these churches, “Well, now you can no longer be a PR congregation because you have become too small.” b) If size were the determining factor, there would not be many congregations today. Take a look at our yearbook once, and take note of the size of many of our congregations at the time of their organization. South Holland, for example, was only 7 families at the time of organization, and that, too, at a time when we did not even have a minister to go there. c) It is not so easy to say No to a group of families who wish to be a Protestant Reformed congregation, especially not when that group of families is far away from any PR center. I have been at synodical meetings when such questions had to be decided, and I have seen synods wrestle long and hard with such questions. Perhaps mistakes have been made sometimes; perhaps not. A synod (or a classis) must use its sanctified judgment in cases like this. 

6) Finally, a word or two about the financial aspect. My correspondent mentions churches who receive help from the synodical needy churches fund. He neglects to mention the many churches which at one time received aid and have become self-supporting and now have the privilege of helping other needy churches. He also neglects to mention the example of Faith Church in Jenison (another greater Grand Rapids area church) which was organized with only 20 families in 1973 and which grew and became self-supporting very soon and is now 83 families (according to our 1983 Yearbook). Besides, let us remember that it is a privilege to bear one another’s burdens. Moreover, the Lord has abundantly blessed us also in this respect. We have never lacked as churches, but always have had more than enough. When I think back to the time of our synodical meetings in 1954 when our synodical fund amounted to a big fat ZERO because our enemies had run off with our synodical funds, and when I consider how the Lord has prospered us and provided for us abundantly, then I can’t think in terms of burdens, only of blessings.

Various Questions and Comment

Correspondence 

From a New Jersey reader I received the following letter: 

Sir: 

I see in the current issue of New Horizons an appeal to OPC women for contributions to the paper. From time to time I see women published in The Outlook. In my brief acquaintance with The Standard Bearer I do not recall any articles written by women, by design or accident. 

My question is this: what is the editorial policy of The Standard Bearer as concerns women and the scriptural basis therefore? 

I have a second question about women, especially Huldah, in II Chronicles 34:22ff. I cannot recall ever having either read or heard preaching about her role as prophetess to Israel other than my own biblical study. We read and hear much about Deborah and Phoebe, but nothing about Huldah. 

My second question is this: Will you discuss the spiritual and practical implications of Huldah’s ministry for the Old Testament Church as well as for the New Testament Church? (In a later postcard the writer asks that this question be expanded “to include Anna as well as Gal. 3:28.”) 

Lastly, I have a comment about the series of articles which John A. Heys is writing about the book of Esther. I am afraid that he has missed the point (one which we Calvinists should never overlook) of Gods sovereign grace being played out in behavioral patterns in people which we might never expect, in ways which we might never suspect, to bring to pass purposes which we might never expect. He has missed the forest for the trees, a standard below The Standard Bearer

Most cordial regards, 

(w.s.) J. Warren Jacobson 

Reply 

Only one of the items in this letter is in my domain as editor. That is the first question, concerning our editorial policy as concerns women. About this, the following: 

1) To my knowledge the Editorial Staff has no stated, formally adopted policy on this matter. 

2) From time to time women have contributed to our columns, either by way of correspondence and comment or by way of articles which were voluntarily offered or requested. Two recent examples of the latter are the article for covenant children in the March 1 issue and an anonymous article some months ago concerning childless couples. Without citing volume and page, I can also state that from time to time in years past women have contributed their comments on various subjects. 

3) A little known and often forgotten fact is that The Standard Bearer is not a church paper, i.e., a paper controlled and published by the church as institute; and it does not speak officially for the Protestant Reformed Churches. It is a free paper, and as such arises out of the organic life of the church. No one controls the character and content of our magazine except the Editorial Staff; and the latter is subject to and responsible to no other organization. This is the significance of the “F” in the name of our publishing organization, the R.F.P.A., the Reformed Free Publishing Association. Historically, this character of our magazine had its occasion in the fact that circa-1924 the official church papers of the Christian Reformed Church were closed to the Rev. Danhof and Hoeksema.

4) Probably a significant reason why our magazine does not more frequently feature women’s contributions lies in the fact that it is preeminently a theological paper, devoted primarily to theological and Biblical exposition. For this reason we look to those who are qualified in those fields to do our writing. 

The second question in this letter I will leave to our Question Box Editor, the Rev. C. Hanko. At present he is in Florida; but this question will reach him, and he will furnish an answer in due time. 

The third item in this letter, the comment about the Rev. Heys’ writings about the book of Esther is also not my domain. If the Rev. Heys, who is at present in New Zealand, wishes to reply, he may do so. Every department editor is responsible for his own material. Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from a suggestion, namely, that the basic question here is: who were the objects of God’s sovereign grace in this history? Were they the carnal Mordecai and Esther, who never in all this history gave a single indication of being anything but carnal and unbelieving? Or were they the remnant, the seed, who would have been destroyed if Haman’s plot had succeeded, but whom God in His sovereign grace preserved through the instrumentality of the carnal Mordecai and Esther and their influence in the court of the godless Ahasuerus? No, I do not think the Rev. Heys is missing the forest for the trees. But he may speak for himself.